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No Coach Snyder, no problem for Utah Jazz in 107-101 road win over Lakers

Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward, right, is defended by Los Angeles Lakers' Timofey Mozgov, of Russia, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward, right, is defended by Los Angeles Lakers' Timofey Mozgov, of Russia, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong, AP

LOS ANGELES — As fans and the organization are well aware, the Utah Jazz have had more than their share of medical issues this season.

George Hill (11 games), Derrick Favors (11), Boris Diaw (eight), Gordon Hayward (six) and Rodney Hood (two) have all missed action because of various ailments.

Unfortunately, it was Quin Snyder’s turn Monday night.

Fortunately for the ill coach, his players played much better than he felt in a 107-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

It will go on Snyder’s record — Utah is now 13-9 on the season — but lead assistant Igor Kokoskov was the active head coach on the bench for the Jazz’s second straight win.

"I know my place. I'm not a head coach and I was trying, but there is no replica to Coach Snyder," Kokoskov said after the Jazz's sixth win in seven games. "This is his team. He is such a great teacher and leader, so I was just happy that I was part of this group. I'm happy that we won this game."

It’s uncertain whether Snyder will be available for the second end of this back-to-back Tuesday in Utah where the Jazz host Phoenix.

Though the Suns now have a different coaching staff — led, of course, by former Jazz guard Earl Watson — a good chunk of the Serbian-American’s NBA experience came in the Valley of the Sun from 2008-13.

Incidentally, Kokoskov’s first coaching gig in the U.S. was in Missouri (1999-2000) with Snyder. The University of Belgrade alum then joined the Clippers staff for three seasons, won a championship as an assistant in Detroit while there from 2003-2008. He was with Cleveland and Orlando the two years before rejoining Snyder’s staff, this time in Utah, in 2015.

Kokoskov replaced the since-departed Brad Jones as Snyder’s right-hand man this season.

Rodney Hood described Kokoskov as intense, a characteristic that also epitomizes Snyder's personality.

“He echoes what Coach (Snyder) is always saying,” Hood said. “We’ve just got to go out there and execute what he’s telling us to do.”

The Jazz didn’t disappoint their temporary new coach.

Utah turned a four-point halftime lead over the Lakers into a 19-point advantage with a big third quarter.

Hayward didn’t explode like he did in Saturday’s 21-point third quarter, but he sparked the Jazz in that pivotal period with 14 points. Hayward, who had a streak of three consecutive outings of scoring 30 or more, finished with 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.

That’s precisely the type of production the Jazz need from their scoring leader without guys like Hill and Favors available.

“Gordon knows that the best players have got to play the best," Kokoskov said. "He’s a leader of this group, the leader of this team.”

Like the Jazz, the Lakers were also shorthanded in this game. L.A. was missing D’Angelo Russell, Jose Calderon, Nick Young and Larry Nance Jr. because of injuries.

Reserve guard Lou Williams led the Lakers (10-13) with 38 points.

"I thought we gave him way too many shots close to the basket," Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said. "But he is really good. He's a great offensive player, good at splitting screens. We tried to change the coverage on him a little bit. We didn't execute our game plan like we wanted to against him."

Los Angeles made things interesting in the fourth quarter, cutting the Jazz's lead down to three a couple of times in the final four minutes.

Hood drilled a big 3-pointer with three minutes remaining and then hit a turnaround fadeaway to give Utah a 105-97 advantage. He finished with 16 points.

Rudy Gobert also played well for the Jazz, totaling 13 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks.

"You can't be concerned when you are on the court," Gobert said. "They made some shots. Lou Williams got to the rim and they just all played through him. We did a great job and made plays when we needed to."

While Snyder wasn’t the one barking out orders or leading team huddles, the message was basically the same from his 44-year-old protégé.

“We’ve got a lot of habits that we’ve been doing over the years,” Hood said. “We’ve just got to go out there and do them no matter — just like a player being out, the same thing. We’ve just got to do our habits.”

As challenging as the Jazz’s medical situation has been — for players and their coach — Hood believes it’s building character.

“The record we’ve got now with all of that going on, I’ll take it,” the Jazz guard said. “We’ve just got to continue to fight through it and get healthy and just be here for Coach (Snyder) like he’s been there for us.”

Kokoskov had never called the shots in an NBA game like he did Monday, but he has ample head-coaching experience in international competition. He was the Georgia national coach from 2008-15 and coached the Slovenian national team this summer.

Most importantly, Kokoskov has earned Snyder’s trust to be thrust into a situation like this at the last minute. Snyder coached the Jazz’s shootaround Monday morning but fell under the weather as the day progressed.

“Obviously, Coach Snyder is such a great coach and dominant figure on our team. This is a team. I feel bad for Coach that he doesn’t feel well,” Kokoskov said while filling in for Snyder’s usual pregame interview. “I don’t think anybody can replace Coach Snyder.

“My job,” he added, “is just to support the team and to be there for the guys and to get ready for this game. I think it’s an absolutely winnable game for us. We came here to play well and to win a game. That’s not a secret.”

Mission accomplished.